Bill Bertka and Brian Shaw
Bill Bertka (left) and Brian Shaw are two of the Lakers' strongest connections to Santa Barbara.
(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)

Exploring the Lakers' Ties to Santa Barbara

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Lakers are returning to familiar territory, as the team announced that it will open training camp in Santa Barbara beginning on Sept. 27.

The Lakers, who had originally planned to hold camp at their practice facility in El Segundo, will spend six days practicing on the UC Santa Barbara campus, where they also held camp in back-to-back seasons 17 years ago.

This current edition of the Lakers features several Santa Barbara ties, beginning with associate head coach Brian Shaw, who was named Big West Conference Player of the Year in 1988 after leading UCSB to a then-school-record 22-win season.

Shaw arrived in Santa Barbara in 1986 as a transfer from Saint Mary’s and soon became arguably the best player in program history. As a senior, he guided the Gauchos to their first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, while putting together some of the country’s most impressive box scores.

Shaw tallied five triple-doubles while becoming the only Big West player in history to lead the conference in rebounding and assists in the same season, averaging 13.3 points, 8.7 boards and 6.1 dimes.

Shaw went on to win his first three rings during the Lakers’ three-peat era and, later, won back-to-back titles as an assistant coach with the purple and gold in 2009 and 2010.

A constant figure during those years (and well before) was Bill Bertka, who is currently entering his 35th consecutive season with the Lakers and 14th as Special Assistant to the GM/Basketball Consultant.

When he moved to California 56 years ago, Bertka set up in Santa Barbara, where he served as the superintendent of the city’s recreation department for 11 years.

A basketball scouting pioneer, Bertka eventually became a huge part of the Lakers’ operation, collecting rings alongside the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Pat Riley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson.

Bertka — who has served as a scout, assistant, Director of Player Personnel and interim head coach in over five decades with the Lakers — continues to live in Santa Barbara, but routinely comes to L.A. for work with the team.

In addition to Shaw and Bertka, two other Lakers were inducted the Santa Barbara Basketball Court of Champions in 2014: Jamaal Wilkes and Don Ford.

A Hall of Famer who had his No. 52 retired by the Lakers, Wilkes was named CIF Basketball Player of the Year at Santa Barbara High in 1970. He only played his senior season with the Dons, whom he led to 26 straight wins.

As a member of the Lakers, he won three championships and earned two All-Star nods in eight seasons, while earning the nickname “Silk” for his smooth way of playing.

Ford, meanwhile, played alongside Wilkes both at Santa Barbara High and with the Lakers. The only player in NBA history who was born in Santa Barbara, Ford was true to his hometown, playing at both Santa Barbara City College and UCSB.

He averaged 7.1 points for the Lakers across more than five seasons before being traded to Cleveland as part of the exchange that gave L.A. the first-overall pick in 1982, which was used to draft Worthy. Ford is currently the radio color commentator for Gauchos hoops.

Ford’s broadcasts often feature the familiar name of “Kupchak.”

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has another reason to make the trip to Santa Barbara, as his son, Maxwell, is a sophomore forward who averaged 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds for the Gauchos last year.

Assistant Athletic Trainer Nina Hsieh is also familiar with the UCSB campus. Recently promoted from the Los Angeles D-Fenders, Hsieh served as Head Athletic Trainer for UCSB women’s basketball from 2004-08 and held the same position with the school’s men’s soccer team for the 2010-11 season.

As for UCSB itself, the university is hardly unfamiliar with NBA action, as Memphis held training camp there just last year. It was the Grizzlies’ second training camp in Santa Barbara, which has also hosted the Clippers (twice), Golden State (twice) and Sacramento.

Under Riley, the Lakers themselves would often travel north to Santa Barbara for “Camp Riley,” the nickname given for the Showtime coach’s trips for extreme conditioning. One of these was a minicamp held just before the 1989 NBA Finals. Despite the seclusion and focus provided by the visit, injuries to Johnson and Byron Scott contributed to L.A. falling to Detroit.

As for official training camps, the Lakers previously held two in Santa Barbara, both in 1999.

The first was a brief one in January since a lockout had delayed the beginning of the 1998-99 season. The purple and gold returned the following year, and Santa Barbara served as the springboard for an unforgettable phase in franchise history.

That team went on to win the 2000 championship, thus making Santa Barbara the unofficial point of origin for the three-peat era.

Now — with Shaw, Bertka and Hsieh in tow — this year’s edition will also open up a new chapter in Santa Barbara, as head coach Luke Walton and his young team take their first steps together.

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